ATWATER -- Taylor Hensley was born into baseball, and the Oakland A's rocked her world.
She was four months old during the 1989 Battle of The Bay, the World Series that was briefly interrupted during Game 3 by the Loma Prieta earthquake.
Hensley was safe in her mother's arms as she watched the game on television, but that series marked the beginning of a lifelong love affair. The A's went on to sweep the San Francisco Giants -- and Hensley's heart.
"I've always joked that they won it for me," she said.
More than two decades later, the Atwater woman is getting her chance to prove her love for the team as one of 50 finalists in Major League Baseball's Fan Cave competition.
The bubbly 22-year-old was selected from among 22,000 applications, thanks to a video she uploaded to YouTube. If she makes it to the next round, which is determined by fan voting, she'll get to go to spring training in Arizona, where a series of challenges will determine the final group of contestants who get to stay in the MLB Fan Cave during the 2012 baseball season.
The Fan Cave is a 15,000-square-foot space in New York outfitted with enough technology to display all 2,430 games of the season. The final group will meet with players and celebrities and document the experience through videos and blogs in the reality-show-like competition.
It's a dream come true for Hensley, who has attended hundreds of games at the Oakland Coliseum over the years. Last year, she went to two games each week, always seated near the bullpen.
In her video, she talks about being a lifelong A's fan. "I grew up on stories about Dennis Eckersley, Vida Blue, Charles Finley, Rollie Fingers," she said in the video. "If I could grow a mustache, I'd grow a Rollie Fingers mustache. I don't know how many dates I'd get, but I'd rock that mustache so hard."
Hensley's no bandwagon fan -- she's stuck with Oakland through good times and bad -- but admits to rooting for the Texas Rangers when Oakland's no longer a post-season contender. She even dressed as a scantily-clad Derek Holland for Halloween, complete with a fake mustache. The photo of that costume made her popular with Rangers fans on Twitter, she said.
She also talks about, as a child, mishearing the opening line of National Anthem as "Jose, Can You See," and assuming it was about former A's slugger Jose Canseco.
Still, she assumed being a superfan wasn't enough in a competition loaded with bloggers, writers and other professional personalities. Her mother, Roni Robles, said she was shocked when she got the phone call the Monday after the Super Bowl.
"She's kind of an underdog. She's definitely different than the rest of them."
Fan Cave finalists are busy pandering for votes until Feb. 22, which has led to a lot of good-natured trash-talking over Twitter. Fortunately for Hensley, she's got the bases covered: She has a large number of local supporters, and has had plenty of training defending herself growing up in a family with divided allegiances. Her stepfather and 10-year-old brother are Giants fans.
"My little brother is the worst. He gives me the hardest time," she said.
In a little more than a week, Hensley will find out if she gets to take a leave of absence from her waitressing job at Nagame's Restaurant and head south to Arizona. But even if she doesn't make the cut, it's certain she'll remain a team player.
Online editor Brandon Bowers can be reached at (209) 385-2464 or email@example.com.